Growth of Local Self-Government in Assam

The present local self government can be traced back to the British regime. During the British regime, limited powers were granted to the local institutions. The traditional system of panchayat suffered a great setback as the Britishers had little interest in the welfare of the native people. However, before the advent of Britishers, there were certain rules and regulations to administer our rural villages for protection of life and property of village people. In 1887, the Chowkidar Panchayat Act was passed and it provided for the establishment of panchayat in any village consisting of more than sixty (60) houses. The responsibility to create any panchayat in a village was entrusted to the District Magistrate. Besides, provision was made to establish panchayat for more than two villages provided they were continuous to one another. The functions of the panchayat were confined to the chowkidari system only. It is mentionable here that in ancient Assam, chowkidari system was prevalent and chowkidar served the villages and salaries were paid from collection of taxes to secure service from them.

The history of panchayat system turned into a specific direction after 1909 both for India and Assam. Because, recommendations of the Royal commission on de-centralisation in 1907 were accepted in 1909. The commission suggested that more power should be conferred to the panchayat. Since then attempts had been made to establish informed village authorities. Accordingly, the Government of Assam accepted the recommendations of the royal commission on de-centralisation and made an attempt to delegate more powers regarding sanitation, water supply etc. These provisions were incorporated in the Local Self Government Act, 1915. But, institutions established like panchayat under this act faced a lot of administrative and financial problems due to conflicts amongst the people of different parts of the same village.

In 1926, the Assam Rural Self-Government Act was passed with a view to provide an administrative setup where villagers could participate for solution of their own problems under this Act, powers were given to the panchayat and provision was made to increase the powers and functions of the panchayat in course of time in under the same Act. But, the villagers were unable to run the administration of their own affairs.

In 1948, the Assam Rural Panchayat Act was accepted and it provided for two-tier panchayat system i.e. primary panchayat and rural panchayat. Under this act primary panchayat and rural panchayat were formed. The rural panchayats would be serving more than one village and the administrative area of the primary panchayat would be one village. But, this Act also failed to serve the villages satisfactorily.

On the recommendations of the Ashok Mehta Committee (1957) the Assam Panchayati Raj Act of 1959 provided for establishment of Mohkuma Parishad, Anchalik Panchayat and Goan Panchayat in rural areas of Assam.

Mohkuma Parishad was an advisory body at the top of the system and Anchalik Panchayat was the middle tier and at the lower level there was the Gram Panchayats. The Anchalik Panchayat could not function effectively and as a result in 1972 it was abolished.

In 1972, two-tier Panchayat system was introduced and accordingly Gaon Panchayat at the village level and Mohkuma Parishad at the district level was established. The Mohkuma Parishad was entrusted with the executive functions in the field of public health, education, welfare, agriculture, small scale industry, co-operative society etc. The Goan Panchayat was entrusted with several developmental functions.

In 1986, the Assam Panchayati Raj Act was passed and it introduced a three-tier panchayat system of Gaon Panchayat, Anchalik Panchayat and Mohkuma Parishad. The Mohkuma Parishads were entrusted with several functions like security and approval of the budget of the Anchalik Panchayat, review of the work of the Anchalik Panchayat to advise the government in distribution of funds etc.

In 1992, panchayat elections were held in Assam which may be considered as landmarks in the history of panchayati raj system in Assam. In the year 1992, the Government of India introduced a new panchayati raj system by the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act 1992. In order to take appropriate action under the 73rd Amendment, the Government of Assam replaced Assam Panchayati Raj Act 1986 with the Assam Panchayat Act 1994. Under this Act, Zila Parishads, Anchalik Panchayats and Gaon Panchayats are constituted at the District level, Block or intermediate level and village level, respectively.

The voters of the Gaon Panchayat directly elect the President and the members of the Gaon Panchayat. The President of the Anchalik Panchayat is elected from amongst the Anchalik Panchayat members. The members of the Zila Parishad are elected by the voters of Zila Parishad constituency. There is a provision of reservation of seats for SCs, STs and women also. 33% of total seats of panchayats are reserved for women. Seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes communities on the basis of population. The Act provides for setting up a State Finance Commission to review the financial position of the panchayat bodies and suggest recommendations for sharing of resources between the State and panchayats. Besides, there will be a District Planning Committee to consolidate the district plan. The Act also provides opportunities to mobilize the resources of panchayat in many ways.

The Assam Panchayat Act, 1994 mentions some functions of the three-tier Panchayati Raj Institutions . Among these, preparation of annual plans and annual budget, mobilization of relief in natural calamities, removal of encroachment on public properties, organizing voluntary labourers and contribution for community works, maintenance of essential statistics of villages and such other development works as may be entrusted are some important functions of the Gaon Panchayats.

Similarly, Anchalik Panchayats are entrusted with preparation of annual plan and annual budget which are submitted to the Zila Parishad for approval, consolidation of the annual plans of all Gaon Panchayats, execution of work entrusted by the government or the Zila Parishad, and to assist the government in relief operation in natural calamities.
The function of a Zila Parishad is to prepare plan for economic development and social justice of the district and ensure the co-coordinated implementation of such plan.

The legislature of a State may by law endow the Panchayat with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government as the State or the Central governments, reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, etc., man datory reservation of seats (not less than one-third) for women in proportion to their population, etc. To prevent executive control over powers and functions of Panchayati Raj Institutions, many State governments have enacted laws, empowering panchayats as institutions of self-government and transferred many departments to panchayats.

In Assam, the State government transferred 14 subjects out of 29 subjects to Panchayati Raj Institutions